Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Choices and Consequences Highlighted by Fatal Chase, Commentary

I really didn't intend to write about The Plain Dealer for a third consecutive day. I wanted to write today about something light and pleasurable, in particular some of the live music I have enjoyed lately and some performances that I look forward to hearing as we head into the holidays.

PD columnist Phillip Morris
But Phillip Morris’ column in today’s PD demands response. 

Morris apparently wants to take a balanced look at police procedures, and he approves the public stance of Cleveland’s mayor and police chief in supporting the use of independent investigators. But in asserting that the driver who led the police on a high-speed chase “is the primary reason he is dead”, Morris lets the police off the hook before a whole host of troubling questions are answered.

Timothy Russell made a decision to disobey police orders to stop. We will never know how or why he came to that choice. What we do know is that when he finally did stop — because he was trapped and had no exit — his car was shot at 137 times by more than a dozen police officers, and both he and his passenger, Malissa Williams, were killed.

Once he could no longer elude the police, was he given a chance to surrender? What precipitated the first shot[s] and all those that followed? Why did the police shooters place so little value on the lives of the car's occupants? Why didn’t the police simply lay siege to the vehicle and give the driver and/or his passenger opportunity to surrender? Why did at least some of the officers disobey clear and unequivocal orders to end their pursuit?

There was a series of decisions made by Russell and by numerous police officers that preceded and led up to the Russell and Williams’ homicides. Unless one argues that the inevitable outcome of fleeing the police is to die in a hail of bullets once you stop, then Russell’s decision to run was but one of many hasty judgments made on that fateful night.

At this juncture, it seems clear that the primary reason Russell is dead, and Williams as well, is that a heavily armed contingent of police officers shot at his car with intent to kill.

• • •

This is kind of a separate issue, but it bears addressing at this time when the future of the Plain Dealer is garnering much local and national attention. Three days ago a forum was held in the inner city to debate whether the campaign by the paper’s editorial staff to persuade the paper’s out-of-town owners to continue daily publication in print. Many of those in attendance questioned the relevance of the paper to the black community.

My view is that the whole community loses if and when the PD goes to a thrice-weekly print publication schedule. I have no idea if that means we will get more or less of Philip Morris. But this is a good time to remind the paper’s powers that be that their urban affairs columnist routinely alienates the vast majority of African Americans in this community with his views. The PD and Morris are entitled to think, write and publish as they wish — the PD buys ink by the barrel — but one cumulative consequence of so many Morris columns is to engender a widespread community feeling that the daily paper is not of, for, by, or about us.

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